Self-effacing wit as a response to oppression: Dynamics in ethnic humor

Samuel Juni, Bernard Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories of self-effacing ethnic humor are analyzed from the perspectives of psychological defense and acculturation. These processes are contrasted with masochism as explanations of self-directed wit. Developmental paradigms are appealed to in conceptualizing the sociocultural function of humor. Identification with the aggressor is conceptualized as a transitional mechanism to assimilate the minority into the host culture. Turning against the self is developed as an alternate mechanism that uses humor as a means of self-empowerment. Reframing and splitting are posited as integral to the defensive process of ethnic humor. The method of luring the aggressor into a situation that is then used against him is construed as the kamikaze maneuver and conceptualized as an ambush technique in which the role of self-effacement facilitates aggression. The analytic elements of these approaches are explored with reference to Jewish humor as a stereotype of the wit of a transient and oppressed people, and annotated examples are offered from published anthologies. Illustrative vignettes, ranging from the mundane to the clinical, are annotated in the discussion. Directions for further inquiry are outlined for issues unresolved in the research literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-142
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of General Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2001


  • Defense mechanisms
  • Jewish wit
  • Marginality
  • Masochistic humor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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